Studying Sherlock: “The Final Problem”

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Endings can be extremely difficult. There are a couple of reasons for this from my personal experience. The first one is the desolate realisation that the someone or something which meant so much to you is no longer going to be part of your future. If you’re someone who gets attached to things easily, like I am, that’s incredibly difficult to cope with. The second reason is the unwritten obligation to make the final moments count. We all want to look back in happiness and not regret in the future, the last thing we want to do is screw up those final minutes.

Though as much as it hurts, endings are a part of the natural cycle. Everything has an introduction, and everything has a conclusion. This includes TV shows, and as much as we may want our favourite programmes to go on forever, they will have to finish one day. In my personal opinion, there are a few vital ingredients in an overall finale. The first is pretty self-explanatory, wrap up all character arcs and plot threads. While it can be effective to end on some sort of cliffhanger, it can also be annoying, knowing that certain elements of the story will never be resolved. I also think it’s important that the final episode represents the show and reminds its audience why they fell in love with it. The last episode will be remembered, and watched, for the sole reason it’s the final one. It needs to leave a good impression, end with a bang and not a whimper, and allow the audience to feel satisfied they spend so much time and effort with this show, it’s story and it’s characters.

While The Final Problem isn’t confirmed to be Sherlock’s final episode, it’s definitely the end of an era, tying up the show many have known and loved since 2010 (I only started watching on New Year’s Eve 2016, so I can’t call myself the world’s biggest fan, but Sherlock is a show I have grown to adore in a short space of time). While there’s no doubt The Final Problem is a flawed story, more so than quite a few episodes, in my opinion, it does work as a finale to the show’s Phase One. There’s rather a lot to love and appreciate here, and while it may not be perfect, you can clearly see the effort put in by Moffat and Gatiss to create not only a good finale but a good adventure in its own right.

As I have mentioned many times before, Sherlock has three main strengths on its storytelling terms. These are its use of character, it’s original, clever and inventive plots and it’s humour. Now, there’s not too much comedy here, in fairness it wouldn’t be very appropriate given the tone of the story (easily Sherlock’s darkest), but the couple of cases it is used (Moriarty coming out of the plane dancing to “I Want to Break Free” made me crack a smile, as did Mrs Hudson listening to Iron Maiden) work well. The Final Problem is mainly about the plot and the character work. While both work, on the whole, both do have serious drawbacks and could be improved slightly.

Let’s start with the character work. The character work has always been what Sherlock has been primarily about, and this episode is no exception. It’s the relationship between John and Sherlock which drives the plots, as well as the individual character work, and both are given some good material here. Sherlock is the lead who I find the most interesting. Though I do like John, a lot, and think Martin Freeman gives a cracking performance throughout, I do find Sherlock the more exciting character. In the beginning, Sherlock was a very different person. He was entirely intellectual, he didn’t care much for other people or how he acted towards them and was completely oblivious to the effect he had on others. He’s grown so much throughout the four series. The Final Problem sees Sherlock pushed to his limits, as there’s not much room for his intellectual intelligence to solve the case, instead he relies on his emotional ability. Sherlock has realised the importance of his friends and his family, and how much he cares for them. Eurus is a terrifying villain because she realises this, and uses his troubles with emotion against him. Series 1 Sherlock probably would have failed the case, it’s the growth of his character, to the emotional, three-dimensional, human we’ve seen over the last few episodes which got through it. The Molly scene is a highlight. The pressure Sherlock is under is emphasised because he is aware that making Molly say she loves him will hurt her, as it will hurt him.

The other highlight is the scene with Mycroft. It’s good to get an episode where Mycroft is as important as he is here. He’s got some development over the four series, but not as much as he has here. Again, it’s the element of care which makes this character interesting. How he insults the importance of John to try and make it easier for Sherlock to shoot him (what’s also notable is how Sherlock turns the gun on himself, a brilliant character moment). It’s a beautiful scene, Mycroft has felt like your conventional older brother for the first time. Someone who may get annoyed with their younger siblings, but also deeply loves them and cares for them. But what’s also interesting is how Mycroft is presented as the villain of the whole piece. It was his mistake, the thought that she’d grow out of her problems, which caused all of this to happen. The “she’s still our daughter” scene is another powerful one. Eurus may be a murderer, but she’s also someone’s family. That angle’s not often taken with characters who are portrayed as being bad, and while it’s only touched upon here, it’s a beautiful moment. It’s also fair to say Gatiss gives his best performance here. The emotion he puts in the role is wonderful. I wish Gatiss wasn’t so inconsistent with his talent, he can be an amazing actor and writer when he wants to be, I wish he knew his own strengths more. His performance was a highlight here.

Speaking of highlights, the overall highlight in terms of performance has to go to the amazing Sian Brooke, who portrayed Eurus as the most threatening antagonist yet. Her cold, deadpan delivery, flat facial expressions, and big black eyes were terrifying, being probably the most threatening character we’ve had so far on screen. I think it’s her manipulative abilities, as well as her intelligence, which make her so petrifying. But also how she’s not the villain. She may have done evil things, but she’s not evil herself. All she wanted was affection, she killed Redbeard because she wanted to play too (as little siblings do). The scene where Sherlock finds her and gives her a cuddle is really powerful for both characters, and I love how they play the violin together at the end of the episode.

Like others, though, I didn’t find some character resolution to be too strong. The Molly scene was fantastic as I have already said, and the amount of trauma both characters was painful but wonderful to watch. It’s a shame that we got no resolution to that scene, an apology or a quick chat about it at the end. It could have provided some more great work between the two characters, the Sherlock/Molly dynamic being my favourite in the whole show, instead, everything is okay at the end, almost like that scene never happened. It’s a real shame, even more, disappointing was the answer Moffat gave for why it wasn’t resolved (though I won’t go into that here).

Plot-wise, this one is interesting. It reminds me of The Great Game, a series of challenges set to push Sherlock to his limits in order to solve them, but this time on an emotional scale than an intellectual one. It’s executed in a way which does feel a bit far-fetched, and I do ultimately prefer what The Great Game tries to do, but it’s okay. I do get the criticisms that it’s a tad nonsensical, though, and I feel like the idea would be more at home in Doctor Who. It’s not enjoyable in the way The Great Game is, this one is designed to shock and scare you. It works, but enjoyability is a massive factor in Sherlock’s quality for me. As good as this is, enjoy wouldn’t be the word I would use to describe my thoughts on it.

I do think this episode also suffers from being very “in the moment”. It’s built around the trauma the audience creates watching these horrific events, once you’ve seen how the story plays out, it might scare you, but the fear it creates from being unpredictable is lost. This does seem like an episode which is designed for people to talk about after airing, I don’t know if it would work as well when the viewer knows how the story plays out. I haven’t tested this rather, but I don’t wish to create a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I do really like how this episode ends. It reminds me of Survival, a monologue which pretty much sums up the ethos and idea of the show closing it. This allows it to continue if they so wish, it doesn’t end it for definite, but it also showcases our two main characters doing what they do best. I love how it was Mary who read the monologue out, a character who understood our two leads better than they did, summing up who they were and what makes them special. It’s a lovely scene.

Production wise, stunning as usual. The musical score was really good here, and the direction was also fantastic. I found the lighting very atmospheric as well. It added to the fear of the asylum, made it feel really unnerving, and quite uncomfortable to watch on screen.

Overall: No doubts a flawed story, but there’s some excellent character work, and it’s pretty damn terrifying. Also works as a good conclusion to the show, if that’s the case.

8.5/10

Final Episode Ranking
1. The Lying Detective
2. The Reichenbach Fall
3. The Sign of Three
4. A Study in Pink
5. His Last Vow
6. The Great Game
7. A Scandal in Belgravia
8. The Final Problem
9. The Hounds of Baskerville
10. The Abominable Bride
11. The Six Thatchers
12. The Blind Banker
13. The Empty Hearse

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Overall Thoughts

I’ve really enjoyed this Sherlock marathon. I’ve loved seeing a detective show which is as much about the people solving the crimes as the crimes themselves, and I’ve loved seeing how these characters have grown. I’ve loved the wacky and inventive plots, being thrown around like no other piece of media has thrown me before, being shocked and scared frequently, but also laughing lots and enjoying the ride. I’ve loved the performances, the writing, the high production values.

Sherlock has become one of my favourite shows over this marathon. I’m looking forward to rewatching the series at some point, and I do hope that it does carry on in future. This has been one of the most enjoyable TV watching experiences I have had, and I will definitely recommend this show to anyone who hasn’t seen it.

Thank you, Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss, Sue Vertue, Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, Una Stubbs, Rupert Graves, Louise Brealey, Amanda Abbington, Andrew Scott, David Arnold, Michael Price, and anyone else who has worked on this series. I may have only been watching this series two weeks, but it’s been fantastic.

Many thanks to all those who have read the reviews, and shared the journey with me. It’s been great fun.

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